Myths About Leading in Negotiations

Negotiating – is it something you throw yourself into with gusto at every opportunity, or something you tend to avoid at all costs?  Wherever you fall on that spectrum, it is likely that a new paradigm related to the three myths noted below will help you elevate your negotiation skills. 

John Lowry is a recognized authority on negotiation who regularly teaches on the topic at Pepperdine University’s School of Law.  In his teaching, Dr. Lowry highlights three commonly-held but mis-guided beliefs about negotiation that stand as obstacles to reaching better outcomes. 
Mis-Guided Belief #1: I am not a negotiator. I do not negotiate that often, I am not good at it and I do not enjoy it, so I do not need to/cannot learn it. 
John often starts his courses by asking the group “what percentage of your week do you spend engaged in a strategic communication process to get a deal or to resolve a problem?” Average answers tend to range between 70-100%.  The definition for negotiation is, of course, slyly built into the question. He asserts that negotiation is in fact “a strategic communication process to get a deal or resolve a problem.” Regardless of your industry or title, you’re likely negotiating far more often than you realize. Furthermore, negotiators are made, not born. 
Mis-Guided Belief #2: Negotiation is win/lose, so I must be aggressive. Or, negotiation is win/win, so I must be accommodating.
What if it wasn’t either/or? What if it was both/and?  Dr. Lowry encourages students to first recognize the two styles of negotiators. There are both competitive and collaborative negotiators, and neither is necessarily better than the other. The key is to understand which type of negotiation you are in so you can adapt appropriately by matching the other’s style. 
For example, if your default is to be collaborative and therefore to seek win/win, but you are negotiating with a competitor you will lose. Remember, the competitive negotiator is seeking win/lose, so in order for them to feel they won, it must appear that you lost. This can be done by stating how difficult or unappealing the deal is for you, even though you’re accepting of it. By approaching the exchange collaboratively and conveying that you reached a mutually beneficial outcome, the competitor will continue to push for an advantage. Likewise, if you approach a deal as a win/lose competitor against a collaborative negotiator, it will not work for them unless they sense a win/win outcome. “You lose, I win” will not be productive. 
Mis-Guided Belief #3: Let them make the opening offer so I have more information. 
In reality the opening offer anchors the entire negotiation so the advantage goes to the negotiator who opens with an offer. Psychologically, those involved will feel a pull toward the initially stated number so it becomes that much harder for either side to deviate significantly from that opening offer. Plus, it gives more flexibility to the person who makes the opening offer because they are now in a position to give up ground to the other side amidst the back-and-forth, but without going beyond a number they can stomach. Many resist making the opening offer out of fear of not being aggressive enough or being so aggressive as to be insulting. Dr. Lowry suggests three zones to think within as a guideline for where to start. The ultimate aim is to anchor with an opening offer as aggressively into the credible zone as possible:
    Zone 1 = Agreement Zone (where you have high confidence the deal will land)
    Zone 2 = Credible Zone (agreement is unexpected, but it gets the process started)
    Zone 3 = Insult Zone (risk having the other party walk away and not start the process)
NEXT ACTION: Discuss the three myths with a trusted peer or mentor to reflect on how you negotiate today. Identify one change you could start working on and use this podcast episode with Dr. Lowry as a resource to go deeper on the topic. 
“Leadership is about relationships.” – John Lowry